Book Review – ‘Bookish and the Beast’ (#3 Once Upon a Con) by Ashley Poston

Another hilarious addition to the CONtemprary twists of fairy tales.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 320

Rosie Thorne is feeling stuck—on her college application essays, in her small town, and on that mysterious General Sond cosplayer she met at ExcelsiCon. Most of all, she’s stuck in her grief over her mother’s death. Her only solace was her late mother’s library of rare Starfield novels, but even that disappeared when they sold it to pay off hospital bills.

On the other hand, Vance Reigns has been Hollywood royalty for as long as he can remember—with all the privilege and scrutiny that entails. When a tabloid scandal catches up to him, he’s forced to hide out somewhere the paparazzi would never expect to find him: Small Town USA. At least there’s a library in the house. Too bad he doesn’t read.

When Rosie and Vance’s paths collide and a rare book is accidentally destroyed, Rosie finds herself working to repay the debt. And while most Starfield superfans would jump at the chance to work in close proximity to the Vance Reigns, Rosie has discovered something about Vance: he’s a jerk, and she can’t stand him. The feeling is mutual.

But as Vance and Rosie begrudgingly get to know each other, their careful masks come off—and they may just find that there’s more risk in shutting each other out than in opening their hearts.

This was an adorably cute, saccharine sweet tale inspired by ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for the Once Upon a Con series. If you love to indulge in the fantasy, then this title will tickle you pink. Being based on a tale as old as time expect to read a lot of tropes, but tropes done in a fun campy sort of way. The narrative definitely lends to a quick read with chapters alternating in perspective between love interests/protagonists Rosie and Vance. I took a little longer to read ‘Bookish and the Beast’ to have a short break every now and then because of the cuteness overload. Especially if you’re not in that mindset…

Rosie is a small town geeky type dealing with grief after the loss of her mother. She and her mother shared a love of the Starfield extended universe – the films, the television show, and the novels released under the franchise, and finds comfort amongst the collection her mother had amassed… but then they hit financial hardship and had to sell off all the collectibles to keep their head above water. So Rosie is clambering, feeling the loss, trying to shape an uncertain future after she graduates high school. I love how Rose is unapologetically a book nerd, and sci-fi geek, and have friends and family equally invested in these things. I really feel a modern twist on the wallflower trope. I loved her growth in learning how to feel deserving of things, and go out and grab them.

Vance in our bad boy. Aggressive attitude, rude, media fodder, and exiled to a small town mansion to decompress and let the string of bad press cool so he doesn’t destroy his acting career. He’s been burned by so-called friends many times when they cash in on his fame; he’s like a punching bag for social media. He’s sarcastic, sullen, and is always putting up a front. I seriously had a lot of eye-rolling in his chapters, but hey, it fit with the character and wasn’t without its comedic moments. In fact I laughed a surprising amount throughout ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Vance has a great character arc in learning to let people in, be confident in himself instead of a persona he fronts in the public eye… and to stop punishing himself for his mistakes.

I love dogs, so the German Shepard Sansa was a great inclusion in the narrative and had me clucking at the pages every time he appeared.

I also like the topic of consent and how boys sometimes don’t really listen to girls, instead doing what they think girls want, and how this was approached through the character of Garrett.

We get a lot of pop culture references in ‘Bookish and the Beast’ that readers and Con enthusiasts alike will identify with. Though, this book does not indulge in the Con events like its predecessors.

As we are following a very over-represented tale in the media, it was so very easy to predict the story, but it was an entertaining modern twist. I loved Ashely Poston’s writing style, some of the phrases she uses are delightful and really stood out to me. My enjoyment for this series has definitely increased with reading ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Though I would have liked a bit more complexity in this book to really push it over the edge.

Again we see some great representation of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum in a positive light that is a part of the characters – not their defining trait.

A pleasant ride through an old classic for anyone who loves retellings, cutesy contemporaries, and anything to do with nerd culture around conventions and reading. I’d recommend this, but make sure you read the two sequels as each book deals with other characters from the same universe and you may lose some context.

Overall feeling: hilarious contemporary tale!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘If We Were Us’ by K. L. Walther

Cute premise, but flat delivery.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 368

Everyone at the prestigious Bexley School believes that Sage Morgan and Charlie Carmichael are meant to be….that it’s just a matter of time until they realize that they are actually in love.

When Luke Morrissey shows up on the Bexley campus his presence immediately shakes things up. Charlie and Luke are drawn to each other the moment they meet, giving Sage the opportunity to steal away to spend time with Charlie’s twin brother, Nick.

But Charlie is afraid of what others will think if he accepts that he has much more than a friendship with Luke. And Sage fears that things with Nick are getting too serious too quickly. The duo will need to rely on each other and their lifelong friendship to figure things out with the boys they love.

I had a lot of hopes for ‘If We Were Us,’ the blurb sounded like this would be a cute contemporary with a touch of diversity, and the cover art matches some similar titles in this genre, but that comparison left me wanting a whole lot more from this story. The narrative felt discombobulated. A lot of info dumping. And the fist chapters introduces a lot of characters on the way side. I felt like I was scrambling to catch up and make sense of what was happening in those opening scenes. The tone did not grab me… felt like smarmy teen characters without any likeable traits. ‘If We Were Us’ was really difficult to get into.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between the ‘it’ couple Charlie and Sage. But there was something about the way closeted Charlie was written did not feel genuine – I feel like an #ownvoices author would have done him a lot more justice. 

The pacing was really slow. So much info dumping. A lot of telling and not showing. The narrative felt flat – like a bunch of descriptions of college students going about their menial lives without any strong emotion behind it. It also did not feel like an authentic coming out. K.L. Walther missed so many nuances that on #ownvoices author would have given the story, or even an author who had done some proper research into real-life experiences of young adults coming out in college. On the plus side, there were some good scenes dealing with anxiety near the end, and the overall plot was cute – but it took way too long to get there, and the entire plot was handed to the reader in the first few chapters… no surprises were dealt along the way. This story would have greatly benefited from some sub-plots, a few unexpected twists, less descriptions of college life and more emotion driven scenes.

If We Were Us’ was okay, but not one I want to recommend to anyone. It felt like the author was trying too hard to look young, or appeal to a young audience and missed all the best things about that age – the uncertainty, angst, the adventure. And the college life was a little white-privileged experience to me.

Protagonist Charlie was stubborn and annoying, self-sabotaging. While interesting because of these conflicts, I found myself wanting some part of his personality and passion (outside of the relationship) to balance this character out. But unfortunately that’s all we got. So that, combined with the ‘telling’ of history and college, Charlie didn’t feel like he developed too much, his story felt flat despite his journey with anxiety and coming out.

Sage, though fiercely loyal, had little going for her other than pining for Nick. I grind my teeth thinking that female characters commonly come across as all about the love interest. I wanted more dimension form Sage. She felt like she was written as a much younger version of herself, like she was 13 or 14 years old.

This story was solely two dimensional about their relationships… there was no other complexity to the story or to the characters.

I also wanted to take out my red pen in parts because the editor had seriously let the author down with some amateur sentence structure. There was nothing particularly individual about K.L. Walther’s writing that made her stand out. This felt like I was reading one of my year 11 student’s English prose. I know this sounds harsh, but a decent editor/publisher team would have worked with and developed the story to shine Walther in her best light. I feel like they really dropped the ball with this one. I can see the bones of a good writer – hints of interesting and engaging characters, perplexing situations, a romantic notion, imaginative settings – it just needed to be pulled together more effectively. A good developmental editor would have pointed out the pacing issues and maybe suggested to increase the level of complexity for the plot.

It was a struggle to read apart from a few chapters near the end when all of a sudden there was tension… but besides that, ‘If It Were Us’ was relatively boring… and ultimately forgettable. Given this was K.L. Walther’s first published novel, I’m expecting her writing prowess to grow and develop and am interested to see how it presents in her second novel ‘The Summer of Broken Rules’ and the fact that it is not dealing with queer characters may play in her favour, but I’m not going to be rushing out to purchase it.

Overall feeling: a bit of a snooze-fest.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ (#2 Creekwood) by Becky Albertalli

Another coming out story from the Simonverse… .

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 352

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Many of my book friends did not like ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ but I thought it was a comical romp through coming out.

Maybe if so much time hadn’t passed, and I was comparing it to ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,’ then yes, I would have rated it lower. For this sequel, we follow Leah coming to terms with her bisexuality and crush(es). We get all the comedic timing that was in the debut of this series, though I have to admit our protagonist fell a touch flatter. I think because we never get any deep exploration around the relationship with her mother (and mother’s new boyfriend,) or any resolution to the issues these two share. It’s all very perfunctory. Also, with ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ we get how Simon and Bram’s relationship affect the gang – and the larger circle of friends they share. Again, we don’t get this exploration in ‘Leah on the Offbeat.’

Leah is a very private, closed-off, and sarcastic protagonist. She’s confident but self-depreciating. So it makes a bit of sense that the plot is a little reserved. We get teen angst, but it felt understated in comparison to ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda,’ but again, it fits the character profile of Leah. I loved how she is sensible. Practical. Considerate of others. Too often in YA we get self-righteous or self-absorbed protagonists who’s character arc is the realisation of their small worldly view, or selfish actions affecting others… not so in ‘Leah on the Offbeat,’ it’s kind of the reverse. Leah learning to take care of herself, and become a little selfish. Letting others in.

It’s a testament to what happens when someone gets bullied for the colour of their skin, their weight, their sexuality, or any other challenge a person may face. They build up walls to protect themselves. In this case, Leah keeps everyone at a distance and deals with the world through sarcasm and dry wit. It’s hard to let people get close to you again because your heart is still in pain from the past.

We get a lot of Simon and Bram and see the progression of their relationship. It fill in the gap between ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ and the television show ‘Love, Victor.’

Leah on the Offbeat’ is easily predictable, falling into the trope contemporaries are famous for, and I’m not mad at it – it’s the reason I picked up the novel in the first place. I’m glad I had left so much distance between reading this and the debut of the series to let it have headspace in its own right. Becky Albertalli has an expert writing style that really gets into the head of an angsty teen facing personal obstacles around love and identity. I would have loved her to delve into the subject of bisexuality and the stigma the label faces in the wider community, or even bring in more support for Leah from the bisexual community in the story.

There are many missed opportunities in the narrative, but overall it was a hilarious tale of a girl overcoming anxiety and embracing her sexuality while on the verge of that tenuous time when we graduate high school and the fear of losing your friendships as everyone scatters into adulthood.

Overall feeling: A little flat, but cute.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Authentic queer representation in literature

This post comes about from a thing I’ve noticed about LGBTQIA+ people and relationships, and how it is reflected in literature…

Being isolated, introverted, and disconnected with society is in most cases a learnt behaviour. Having a frank conversation with a plethora of members of this community from all genders, races, and ages have brought to life something that I find alarming. It’s like a double edged sword – a form of self-abuse and self-protection. And it’s not something that I see discussed frequently or represented in literature. I mean, I’ve read novels where this is touched upon (and it is usually in #ownvoices tomes), but the mainstream tend to overlook this kind of behaviour in favour of trending coming out stories. Coming out isn’t necessary for any LGBTQIA+ person, and their issues do not magically disappear as soon as they do; in most cases you get handed a different set of complications to navigate.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community face rejection of some form so regularly that when it comes to friendships and familial relationships, many individuals will let go of these relationships, not because of discrimination, mircoaggression, or flat out rejection, but because it just petered out. Any type of friendship or relationship is a two-way street, but LGBTQIA+ people face bigger hurdles in fostering these types of relationships to cis-gendered straight members of the community.

The sad reality is that LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to continue putting themselves in a position where they can get hurt by being the one to initiate contact. Even with members of family or their friends which they already have an established and safe relationship with. Rejection can be tiring. It can whittle away at your psyche until you just can’t be bothered anymore. So when I asked about these types of relationships, and why they had ended, it was a sad realisation that having a relationship of some form with a LGBTQIA+ person is a little more than an even exchange of pleasantries.

“LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to continue putting themselves in a position where they can get hurt by being the one to initiate contact.”

LGBTQIA+ people require you to do slightly more work. Be the initiator of a conversation, reach out on social media, send a text, make a call. Make them feel safe. Wanted. Valuable. Don’t get complacent… otherwise you will be replaced, forgotten, pushed further out in their circle of friends/relatives.

Now, every person is different, and their relationships are different too, so this is not a blanket statement applying to all LGBTQIA+ people. It was just a trend I noticed in talking to these particular community members and how they wished things hadn’t gotten so awkward. Should they initiate contact after all this time? Had things gotten so bad because that other person was too polite and didn’t want to say outright that they did not want them in their lives? Did that other person fear reprisal, or being branded homophobic, or something similar? This was the kind of internal monologue running through the heads of many of the LGBTQIA+ people I talked with. It comes from a place of fear and rejection. A tone that is always underlying many of LGBTQIA+ relationships. It doesn’t go away.

An extra burden the community carries.

I think that is where movements like #ownvoices is important. They live through the nuances of the LGBTQIA+ experience that cis-gendered, straight author’s commonly overlook (or, quite frankly, don’t even register as something that exists) especially now in a publishing climate where the LBGTQIA+ community is getting greater representation. While I feel like any representation is a plus, we still need to ensure that we are having a positive impact on the community. And yes, I understand that people read for different reasons, and that it is all well and good to make this statement and yet M/M romances written by cis-gendered female authors is still leading that sub-genre market. And straight, cis-gendered authors are penning popular YA novels… I’d like to see fiction take the opportunity to explore real issues the LGBTQIA+ community face and not use sexuality or coming out as a plot device.

Some outstanding writing I feel that does the LGBTQIA+ community great service includes these authors (with links to their Goodreads pages):

Becky Chambers, Alice Oseman, Michael Barakiva, Alison Evans,

Bill Konisberg, C.B. Lee, Shaun David Hutchinson,

Casey McQuistion, Graeme Aitken.

I’m sure there are many other authors out there, but this is all I have personally read that bring that authentic LGBTQIA+ tone with their writing. Feel free to add more authors down in the comments that you feel deserve to be on this list.

I love that we are seeing allies, out and proud, bolstering the community. Actions of these people is the exact kind of social movement that helps to tear down the walls of fear and rejection that has subtly affected the way LBGTQIA+ people relate to others – especially outside the community.

This article is not an answer to an issue. A diagnosis. Merely a discussion from social interaction and conversations that I feel is important to consider, and start to make readers aware of the issues a marginalised community face – and not something to be romanticised as a plot device. LGBTQA+ people isolate themselves, whether consciously or not, and it is up to the community at large to reach out. Make safe spaces. Because some LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to do so. Yes, there are people standing up for a marginalised community and making changes, bringing awareness to issues like this, but not everyone is a trailblazer, or can stand on a soapbox and fight for an issue. Many are broken. Scared. Or just plain fed up with everything being so hard. Not to mention facing fear for their lives, physical abuse, ostracized from their families, religious communities, neighbourhoods, or workplaces.

So take a little time and patience with your friends and family. Check in on them more often. You never know who is in that mental space, protecting their heart. Hearts are built to share and spread love… even if they are a little shy.

Start reading critically, support #ownvoices authors and make the publishing landscape an equal opportunity industry. Representation matters. Authenticity matters. And this issue is much larger than LGBTQIA+ communities as the current national political landscape has shown recently with movements like BLM, WomenUp, StopH8, etc..

I feel fiction with realistic, relatable characters engaging; stories with relevant issues interesting; and bringing in these types of mechanics in storytelling can add complexity, richness, and lead to the ultimate reading experience.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Hold My Hand’ (#2 One Man Guy) by Michael Barakiva

There is a lot to love about Hold My Hand.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 272

Alek Khederian thinks about his life B.E. and A.E.: Before Ethan and After Ethan. Before Ethan, Alek was just an average Armenian-American kid with a mess of curly dark hair, grades not nearly good enough for his parents, and no idea of who he was or what he wanted. After he got together with Ethan, Alek was a new man. Stylish. Confident. (And even if he wasn’t quite marching in LGBTQ parades), Gay and Out and Proud.

With their six-month anniversary coming up, Alek and Ethan want to do something special to celebrate. Like, really special. Like, the most special thing two people in love can do with one another. But Alek’s not sure he’s ready for that. And then he learns something about Ethan that may not just change their relationship, but end it.

Alek can’t bear the thought of finding out who he’d be P.E.: Post-Ethan. But he also can’t forgive or forget what Ethan did. Luckily, his best friend Becky and madcap Armenian family are there to help him figure out whether it’s time to just let Ethan go, or reach out and hold his hand.

There are a lots of wonderful things to love about ‘Hold My Hand.’ The representation and essence of Armenian culture woven into the narrative (and the food. The Food!) As well as a frank discussion on education, discrimination and acceptance in society as a whole. When Alek points out that with helicopter parents, parental controls on devices at home and at school, and the curriculum refusing to teach sexual health for the LGBTQIA+ community, there was nowhere for him to learn about issues concerning his health and development. Alek also tackles the Armenian church his family attends, still holding fast to bygone attitudes and interpretations that discriminate not only against him for being gay, but women, people of colour, issues like abortion, etc. ? I have to say it was refreshing the tone and frank discussion Alek brings to the narrative. It does feel a bit dated, because shouldn’t we have addressed these inequalities and moved on by now? Its popular opinion that attitudes need to change – and they are changing. But ‘Hold My Hand’ lets you know that the fight of social justice is still alive and surging. That we should not become complacent. There is still work to do to improve the human race.

I feel like we get a lovely character arc with Alek, building on his growth from ‘One Man Guy.’ We really start to see him stand his ground while remaining true to his heritage and family values. I haven’t felt such a clear cut path into adulthood in a YA novel yet. And I loved it. It really resonated with me. Though Alek is still a nerd, a little neurotic, he is not this angsty emo teen we get a lot of in YA, he feels balanced and grounded. I like his stance on honesty and forgiveness. It’s something I feel we can all aspire to.

I wasn’t as sold on Ethan. He let me down as much as he did Alek – but I am much less forgiving. I would have liked to see him work harder to earn Alek’s trust – though is was great to read, he was proactive in dealing with the situation later in the book. I think there is something about his easy-breezy laid back attitude that still annoys me. He is a great counter balance to Alek, but still, he’s not a love interest I am totally invested in.

Remi as one of the stories antagonists was a stroke of genius. He was like a Bond villain and I wanted to reach through the pages and punch him in the face… though he doesn’t paint a particularly pleasant picture of Australians. As an Aussie girl I was grinding my teeth: but I do know some guys like this. Too slick for their own good, and always seem to end up on their feet despite the carnage they leave in their wake.

‘Hold My Hand’ was a cute, understated love story with a relevant social message. While I think the pacing was a little slow and there was a mix of the tone being immature and then mature at times, like it was slipping between target demographics, Michael Barakiva’s writing style is as breezy as Ethan’s demeanour.

Very easy to read and escape into, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading ‘Hold My Hand’ and feel like it did this series a justice. I definitely want to read more from this author.

It was educational on sensitive topics without being offensive. The romance is realistic with a social conscience, and this is a novel that is as thought provoking as it is endearing. Representation for the win! A soft recommendation from me.

Overall feeling: Oh, my heart!

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ (#2 Once Upon a Con) by Ashley Poston

A cutesy modern take on an old fairy tale…

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT+

No. of pages: 320

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: to save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off in the Starfield movie sequel. The problem is, Jessica Stone, the actress who plays Amara, desperately wants to leave the franchise behind.

When a case of mistaken identity at ExcelsiCon throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must team up and trade places to find the person responsible.

That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover the darker side of fandom — as well as unexpected romantic possibilities. Can these “princesses” find a way to rescue themselves from their own expectations and redefine what it means to live happily ever after?

I was really looking forward to where Ashley Poston was going to take the Once Upon a Con series with this sequel ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ because her writing style is charming and adds a modern, diverse twist with the fairy tale re-telling trope.

Told in alternating perspectives between protagonists Imogen and Jess. Jess is an actress and star from the hit film ‘Starfield’ in which her character, Princess Amara sacrifices herself in the end. She is glad to be done with the franchise as she views it as a pop culture phenomenon and not serious acting to include in her portfolio, but no denying the movie has increased her exposure and opened doors to many new opportunities. The Convention is the last bit of publicity Jess is contracted to do before moving on to other possibilities. That is, if the twitter campaign #SaveAmara does not catch on and force the producers of the hit film to tie her down with a long-term contract… and a franchise she is coming to loathe.

Imogen is a massive fan of ‘Starfield’ and dead ringer for the actress playing the role of Princess Amara. She is also behind the #SaveAmara campaign as she sees the character as a phenomenal role model for young women everywhere. Her two mums have been running a booth at the Conventions forever and their lives are drenched in everything pop culture.

So what follows is a parent trap-esque storyline (al-la The Prince and the Pauper) and hi-jinx of a conspiracy to expose a confidential script of the sequel to ‘Starfield,’ which if revealed could get Jess fired and eliminate any chance of her working in Hollywood ever again. Not to mention meeting Imogen’s friend who she is inexplicably attracted to – but one problem: she’s met her under the pretence of pretending to be Jess while she tries to track down the person leaking snapshots her script online. Meanwhile Imogen is all too happy to ply the role of Jess in hopes she can help grow the following to her #SaveAmara directive.

The Princess and the Fangirl’ is tropey and campy, but in the best way. I laughed out loud and even managed to shed a couple of tears in some more touching scenes. ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ was an easy read I managed to speed through in a couple of sittings. Ashely Poston really manages to grasp the turmoils and anxiety of teen crushes, headstrong tantrums at parental figures, and rules trying to keep them in a box and on schedule. Be prepared for cookies galore of pop culture references. This is soaked in Con culture. It was delightful and nostalgic as well as entertaining.

At first, upon reading ‘Geekerella’ I was – okay, this is cute. But now I’m really starting to fall in love with Ashley Poston’s writing and the characters she creates. The pace strikes at a lighting speed, I really did not want to put the novel down. There is also wholesome innocence that shines through which is endearing. I think the issue with re-tellings is that it eliminates much of the possibility of creating surprise – we know how the story is going to end. While the mystery of the person behind leaking the ‘Starfield’ sequel script added some much needed mystery, I did not feel like ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ was all that original. But that is the fault of the genre and nothing to do with the writing. Ashely Poston has written some interesting characters and their ‘voice’ was easily distinguishable between chapters – even though the chapter headings let you know which protagonist we were following.

I know I am not the target demographic for this novel, and as such, felt like there could have been more complexity, and the characters more dynamic – though to be fair, a book written like that would have ruined the aesthetic and charm of the story. It’s just my personal preference in stories I find engaging. ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ is a fantastic follow-up to ‘Geekerella’ and I’ve already ordered sequel ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Ashley Poston has slowly woven her way into my heart and made me a fan!

Overall feeling: Look to the stars! Aim! Ignite!

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

The type of diverse novel I’ve been longing to read. No hate. Just meetcute.

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 437

From Goodreads:

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

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This was such an adorable story. Arthur and Ben are deliciously, awkwardly cute. A realistic things-don’t-always-go-right sort of thing.

What if it’s us’ is everything I expected it to be. Well written characters, a meet cute oozing innocence, awkwardness and angst. I may have rated it higher, but in comparison to ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapien Agenda’ this didn’t hit me as hard… or have as much comedy. So it just missed out on a perfect score. But that is not to say that is any less of a captivating read.

Four hundred pages and still ‘What if it’s us’ flew by. I was always eager to see where the next chapter would take me. The alternating perspectives between Arthur and Ben lead off on two different storylines that happened to intertwine more and more as the novel progressed without rehashing information as we head-jumped into each narrative. I will say that the writing style did not differ too greatly between each perspective – if it weren’t for chapter titles and references I would have difficulty discerning whose voice was whose. I’d love to have seen some idiosyncrasies, habits, common word usage and tone separate the two perspectives a little more.

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Arthur, the shorter college-bound nerd discovering his first love made me smile with his uncertainty in everything but love. His values in family and friendship. I think this is the first story where there is no bitchiness or bullying, so a surprisingly fun rom-com.

It felt like Ben had the biggest journey in this contemporary; discovering things about himself through introspection, friends, and of course, Arthur. He felt more like the stoic introvert that finally comes out of his shell.

It’s all about coming of age…

All of the secondary characters had their own stuff going on too: getting together, breaking up, fighting, and supporting each other. I really loved this aspect of ‘What if it’s us’ and really fleshed out the narrative.

It ends on the same note of the title as a question – like a true contemporary. One of hope that left me satisfied and hopeful myself.

The pacing is fairly steady. It’s not a fast read, but definitely does not feel like its dragging. The perfect timing for this type of genre.

Definitely recommend for lovers of stories of diversity, light romances, and New York City.

Overall feeling: A deliciously snuggy story

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What If It's Us Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Geekerella’ by Ashley Poston

A modern day, nerd-encrusted Cinderella re-telling that oozes cuteness.

Geekerella Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad’s old costume, Elle’s determined to win – unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons – before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake – until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

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Cheesy. Cute. Compelling. Contrite.

I love the geek-culture-Convention twist for this Cinderella retelling. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, because rehashing of this tale has been flogged like the proverbial dead horse. I had my moments of near eye-rolling because of the predictability and tropes associated with YA and fairy tales; but managed to get sucked in. I related to, and cared for our two main characters. Elle and Darian. Told in dual perspectives, alternating each chapter, something I usually detest, because it can repeat the same information, and let’s authors get lazy in plotting out a story. But the points of view are so different from each other, and for the most part in different locations, with separate motivations, I didn’t once find this format of a narrative a drawback.

My heart went out to Elle. I had a moment when, like in ‘Pretty Woman’ Julia Roberts’ character discovers turned up noses and sales staff refusing to let her shop. The feels when Elle has her hopes and dreams literally torn apart in front of her. Well done to Polston for capturing the feels and shaking them out of me. I swear I wanted to get physically violent with the antagonists several moments in this book.

Geekerella Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgDarian was a bit of a wimp, but an adorable one. I loved how he is the character that is body shamed and concerned about his diet, instead of a female lead. It really brings to the forefront the pressures of modern day media and the internet has on instant fame and scrutiny.

We also had a bit of a two-dimensional feeling to the secondary characters, yes they had a moment where we get a glimpse of complexity, but these characters are usually there to drive the plot forward and time is not waited on their backstory to keep the plot moving forward.

I managed to devour this book in a day, one single sitting. Polston’s writing style is fairly breezy, but scatters in some nerdy SAT words, just to confirm the genre and market that embodies the soul behind the story. It was the perfect piece of escapism, littered with enough from the original tale of Cinderella to be relevant, but oozing with diverse characters and nerd pop culture.

There were a few plot points I would have liked to see resolved better.

There is a tone of overcoming loss that is heavy in ‘Geekerella.’ That one person doesn’t swoop in to save you from it all and make it go away. You save yourself and find someone who helps you see a brighter future to share…

Overall feeling: a delightful surprise to read

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Upside of Unrequited’ (Creekwood) by Becky Albertalli

Like a page from my high school journal…

The Upside of Unrequited (Creekwood) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, GLBT

No. of pages: 336

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

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The Upside of Unrequited’ was cute. Really cute. Adorable even.

While I loved the romance of it all, the diversity and points of view, I wasn’t completely engaged or surprised. And I didn’t identify too much with Molly. Mental illness, insecurity, a youthful mindset all played a part in isolating me from her. I liked this difference to the usual tropes in YA, but I found myself wishing she was a touch more socially intelligent and the narrative wasn’t always related to emoticons and one word sentences and thoughts with exclamation points.

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The dynamic of twin sisters growing apart was a great storyline, I kinda wish there had been more of Molly’s relationships taking front and centre instead of it being mostly boy-centric. I mean, I love me some romance, but this felt a bit heavy on the boy crush obsession. But in saying that, it rings so true to the seventeen year old girl mind. If I cracked open any of my journals from around that age, it would read so close to Molly’s words. But waaay more awkward and waaaay less cute boys 😊

The Upside of Unrequited’ is predictable for the most part. There were moments that I got a little bored. Moments that I felt old – the language is definitely geared towards a tween demographic. Opposing, there were moments that I awed and giggled out loud.

After ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ impressed me so much ‘The Upside of Unrequited’ did not really hold up to such a bright light. But a lovely read nonetheless, and I went into this novel with no expectations and enough distance to appreciate it on its own merits. I do love how it is set in the same universe as Simon, and am really looking forward to reading about Leah’s perspective (and maybe getting a glimpse at some more of the characters we know and love in ‘Leah on the Offbeat.’

Recommend this for lovers of light contemporaries, and obsessed with all things Creekwood.

Overall feeling: aww *squish* *squish*

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The Upside of Unrequited (Creekwood) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Break-ups – Real vs. Fictional Boyfriends

Break-ups Fictional v Real Boyfriends Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

How do the ex’s stack up to some of the fictional ex’s….

I haven’t had a lot of relationships in my life, but those I have experienced, fall into three categories when it comes to describing their end…

Break-ups Fictional v Real Boyfriends Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

Break-ups Fictional v Real Boyfriends Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleWhen the guy somehow, magically disappears from the face of the earth. He’ll stand you up, refuse to call, text, or email for weeks with no explanation. One moment you’re happy and thinking of what to do on your next adventure, and the next…
*crickets!*

Then you’ll get a visit or phone call after you’ve been worried he’s been abducted by aliens, or died in a car crash. And he just says that he’s met someone else, or got back with his old girlfriend… wtf? There are never any warning signs. Just a disappearing act and a lame goodbye.

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This guy will also give you no warning of your impending break up. In fact, one night he’ll take you out on an amazing date. Great restaurant and food, visit your favourite hang-out, shower you with compliments. And at the end of the night when you think he is the most wonderful boyfriend ever he says he want to break up. Then proceeds to give you a long list of everything he thinks is wrong with you.

Can. Feel. Anger. Rising.

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In short, it’s the guy who dumps you over text. Then immediately blocks all forms of communication (and social media) afterwards. Again. Like a slap in the face with some smelly week-old cold fish.

All done. Period.

The one thing in common all these guys have is that they never spoke about being unhappy in the relationship. They made up their minds to end it before speaking (or texting) the words. They didn’t want to work things out, or start a dialogue. Just bam. Sorry babe it’s over.

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Maybe it says that I’ve only dated guys who are afraid to talk to me? Immature guys; guys who don’t want a partner to laugh, love, and work through the hard times with – but are also some imaginary picture-perfect woman that swoons and agrees with everything they say (does that sound bitter?)

Some of the breakups in books have followed the same pattern as above, especially in YA. But at least you get some answers and closure in a novel. Real life – so sad, go suck an egg.

Mostly, though the fictional break ups are tension-filled, messy and executed in dramatic flair, I don’t think I’d ever want to experience anything like that in real life. I’d be ruined or comedown with PTSD. But at least the characters try. There’s a sharing of feelings, some misunderstandings, stubborn attitudes most of the time. And then at the end of it, the main character gets to walk away all the better for the experience to some bright glowing future…

Now I know why I read so much. The break ups are far more satisfying and there is always some other prospect on the horizon.

But most stories are about people getting together. Maybe one day I’ll experience a relationship that is worthy of a story, and I can finally say I’ve put all the ghosts, event planners, and lazy men behind me. In the meantime, I’ll continue to live precariously through my fictions boyfriends.

Happy (swoony) reading 😉

Break-ups Fictional v Real Boyfriends Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.